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Curtains down for U-boat construction at Thyssen Nordseewerke at Emden, Germany

In mid-October 2011 German News Agency DPAS reported about the delivery by the Thyssen Nordseewerke shipyard of the last sections for the two submarines of the “Dolphin”-Class under construction for Israel at HDW at Kiel. Therewith, after 72 years U-boat construction at Emden has come to an end.

A long history of U-boat construction at Emden draws to a close now and it marks at the same time the end of further civil and military shipbuilding there at all. Announced on 08th of September 2011, the sale of this shipyard with its branches “Naval Construction” (the Nordseewerke shipyard has been one the great Naval shipyards in Germany) and “Civil Shipbuilding” by the last owner, the Thyssen-Krupp Marine Systems (TKMS) to the Schaaf-Industries AG (SIAG) will mean the end of any new shipbuilding, instead, fewer employees will be engaging in the production of parts for offshore wind energy plant (windmills). On the other hand, the former ship repairs section of the shipyard shall be continued. For that, the “Emder Werft – und Dockbetriebe GmbH”, has been established as a 100% subsidiary of TKMS, currently under contract to do the final fit of the third German Task Group Replenishment Ship of the 702-Class Bonn (A 1413) under construction.

The Nordseewerke were founded in 1903 and it grew after some initial problems to be one of the leading shipyards in Germany before WW I. Its favorable location at the river Ems with direct connection to the industrial Ruhr area opened up further opportunities for shipbuilding and ship repairs.

WWI meant a complete change for the shipyard to new construction and repairs for the Imperial German Navy, even U-boat construction was planned after 1919. Following difficult post war years, particularly during the great world economic crisis, which even forced to a temporary closure, the shipyard continued as “Nordseewerke Emden GmbH” as of 01st of January 1934. Not before 1939 Naval shipbuilding was resumed, this time entirely U-boats for the Kriegsmarine, There was intent for 9 U-boats per year, plus repairs of Naval surface vessels. Between 1941 and 1944 the shipyard built some 30 units of the Type VII C U-boat.

After WW II shipbuilding continued for civil orders initially, ongoing enlargements of the yard´s capacities allowed in the end new constructions up to 30,000 t. The recent sale ends a proud history of 106 years of shipbuilding at the Nordseewerke, the last launching occurred on the 11th of December 2009 of the 228 m long container ship Frisia Cottbus (3,400 TEU). Apart from this, the shipyard experienced several changes of ownership after WW II, usually accompanied by severe effects to the workers. In 1952 the shipyard was taken over by the “Rheinstahl Union Maschinen- und Stahlbau AG”, 1957 the yard was sold to the “Rheinische Stahlwerke Essen/ Rheinstahl”, and in 1974 eventually taken over by the Thyssen AG. From 1976 onwards Thyssen run the shipyard under its long time name “Thyssen Nordseewerke GmbH/ TSNW”. The number of staff and workers, which had grown to some 5.000 at the end of the 1960ies, had to be cut to mere 1.400 during the period of the shipbuilding crisis during the 1970ies. This number could be maintained until the recent sale. The new owner SIAG has announced, to further keep about 700 of the workers for the production of parts for wind energy plants.

Beginning in 1963 the Nordseewerke were back in U-boat construction, initially for export purposes to Norway (Type 207/ “Kobben”), later to Argentina (Type TR 1700), another batch for Norway (Type 210/ “Ula”), as well as to Israel (Type 209/ “Dolphin”) and South Africa (Type 209). Increasingly, TSNW built only sections of U-boats in cooperation with HDW at Kiel, which became a standard procedure during the last years of U-boat construction at TSNW. Also the Navy of the Federal Republic of Germany received U-boats from Emden: After 9 complete units of the Type 206 and their combat enhancement program to Type 206A the Nordseewerke produced sections of the latest addition to the German U-boat Flotilla, the Type 212A. Besides this, the shipyard was a partner to the frigate consortium of German shipyards, building 2 frigates of the Type 122 in the mid-1980ies and one frigate each of the Type 123 and Type 124.


Following Brazil: Plans in Argentina for a nuclear powered submarine?

In October 2011 media reports came from Argentina, that the Argentine Minister of Defence, Arturo Puricelli, has given notice of the intent to follow a directive of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner to complete the construction of the submarine Santa Fe, including equipping with a nuclear propulsion system. The construction of submarine Santa Fe has been put on idle in 1996, after it started in the mid-1980ies at the Domecq Garcia shipyard at Buenos Aires, Argentina, to be carried out, however, to just about 50 %. Now, using components already produced and in stock, construction shall be completed, thereby adding a nuclear propulsion system.

The Santa Fe was one of two submarines (the other one was the Santiagio del Estero) of the German export type TR 1700 to be built in Argentina under licence of Thyssen Nordseewerke (TSNW) at Emden, Germany. Two more submarines (San Juan and Santa Cruz) were built at TSNW between 1982 and 1983 (displacement 2,150 t, submerged 2,365 t, length 65.9 m, beam 7.3 m, Diesel-electric propulsion, speed 13 kn, submerged up to 25 kn, operational diving depth up to 300 m, range 12,000 nmi at 8 kts, submerged 460 nmi at 6 kn, 6 torpedo tubes, crew 30 men). Last year first reports talked already about at submarine of the TR 1700-Class to be equipped with a nuclear reactor developed in Argentina, with tests to begin as early in 2013 and to be completed in 2015, although it was believed that the San Juan will be selected for the conversion.

One ought to receive the announcement of this project of prestige (see our “flotsam” of Sep. 2011, where we reported about Brazil´s plans for a nuclear powered submarine, which means a clear national challenge to Argentina) with some caution, since the financial capabilities are still somewhat restricted after the country has risen from near state bankruptcy between 1998 and 2002 to a remarkable recovery and steady economical growth. And, it would mean to create for years a huge disproportion in the defence budget in favor of the Navy. Moreover, the project would mean a significant technical challenge to equip submarines of such relatively small measures with a nuclear propulsion system. Although, Argentina has many years of experience with peaceful use of nuclear power, as it operates two nuclear power plants: Since 1974 the power plant Atucha and since 1984 the power plant Embalse.


Canada to go for nuclear subs as well?

At the end of October 2011 Canadian media reported that the Canadian government considers to replace the 4 older Diesel-electric propelled submarines of the “Victoria”-Class ((HMCS Victoria/ SSK 876, HMCS Windsor/ SSK 877, HMCS Corner Brook/ SSK 878 and HMCS Chicoutimi/ SSK 879) by modern, nuclear powered submarines for its Three-Ocean-Navy (Atlantic, Polar Sea and Pacific).

To replace their 3 older submarines of the “Oberon”-Class (HMCS Ojibwa, HMCS Okanagan and HMCS Onondaga, purchased from Britain between 1965 und 1968) Canada in 1998 acquired 4 conventional submarines of the British “Type 2400″/ “Upholder”-Class at costs of then some 750 Mill. Canadian Dollars, which were built in the UK for the Royal Navy between 1983 and 1990 at Birkenhead and Barrow-on-Furness, but commissioned for a short period of time only. These 4 submarines (HMS Upholder/ S-40, HMS Unseen/ S-41, HMS Ursula/ S-42 and HMS Unicorn/ S-43) were an undertaking given up by the Royal Navy after a very short service time of the submarines to add a cost effective supplement to their nuclear powered strategic and fleet submarines by conventional submarines. The Soviet conventional submarines of the “Kilo”-Class set some example for this. However, defence budget constraints forced a premature de-commissioning of these submarines in 1994 in favor of the further operation of the nuclear powered submarine force of the Royal Navy.

The submarines of the “Victoria”-Class have a length of 70.3 m and a width of 7.2 m, their displacement is 2,260 t, submerged 2,500 t, their speed is 12 kn surfaced and about 20 kn submerged, their range is about 10.000 nmi at 12 kts, battery driven they can sail submerged about 270 nmi at 3 kn, they have 6 bow torpedo tubes for the launch of heavy weight torpedoes, and their crew is 57 men.

The procurement, thought to be a particular profitable deal, turned out to be a saga of technical problems, many breakdowns and a totally unsatisfactory operational readiness of the submarines. So far, some 1 Bill. Canadian Dollars had to be spent for repairs and necessary refits. HMCS Chicoutimi (ex HMS Upholder) for example has seen an amazing 2 days of unrestricted operational readiness within its 13 year with the Canadian Navy. It made headlines during its ill-stricken transfer voyage from the UK to Canada, when on 05 October 2004 fire broke out due to human error on board, followed by a large scale rescue operation by some 6 Naval vessels and an extremely risky recovery operation for injured crew members by SAR Helicopter to Ireland, sadly enough also one dead officer.

The recent considerations came to light during a parliamentary question time on 28 October 2011 at Ottawa, when Canadian Minister of Defence Peter Mackay stated that “in principle he, in an ideal world, knows, nuclear powered submarines to be the best what one can get for operations under the ice of the Polar Sea”, and he underlined, that the decision for Diesel-electric propelled submarines even for the future Navy has been a decision of the past. At the same time, the Canadian government officially continues so far to flatly deny any concrete plans for acquiring nuclear powered submarines.

Canadian media conclude from this, that these principle considerations might lead very well to a procurement of nuclear powered submarines as a replacement for the ongoing unsatisfactory available “Victoria”-Class submarines, should the conservative government and Prime Minister Brian Harper be re-elected in four years time.

On the other hand, the media point at the high procurement costs of nuclear powered submarines, which amount to some 1,8 Bill. Canadian Dollars for the US “Virginia”-Class and some 2.08 Bill. Canadian Dollars for the British “Astute”-Class. A Canadian nuclear powered submarine would easily reach up to 3 Bill. Canadian Dollars (currently 1 Euro = 1.40 Canadian Dollars)


After all, no 6th submarine of the Dolphin-Class for Israel?

We have reported in our Sep. 2001 edition of our “flotsam” about the initial financial measures in Germany´s budget to support the construction of a 6th submarine of the “Dolphin”-Class, which should receive an air independent propulsion system, same as the 4th and 5th submarine of this class for Israel, currently under construction in Germany.

At the end of October 2011, media in Germany and Israel report about alleged considerations by the German government to stop for the time being the financial support (135 Mill. Euros), as well as the construction of this submarine in Germany. A newspaper in Israel already talks of a “Submarine Crisis”, as the possible end of further support of this submarine would cause deep concerns in Israel.

Main reason for the “freeze” of the submarine deal by Germany is said to be Israel´s current settlement policy in the occupied West Bank, which also has led to considerable criticism of Israel by other countries.

There are no official statements of both governments available yet, although ongoing talks about the possible deal are confirmed.


  • dpa
  • Zeit Online
  • Yedioth Ahronoth